“I can.” Those are powerful words for students learning a challenging new math concept.
“I can.” Those are powerful words for students juggling more assignments, more classes, and more responsibilities than they did just last school year.
“I can.” Those are the powerful words Leslie Anne McCoy teaches students to master at Mabry Middle School.
Almost as soon as they enter her classroom, Ms. McCoy hands the students a piece of paper that outlines her expectations, and they make a commitment to her and to themselves to rise to those high expectations. The students’ pledges on colorful patterned paper come together to form a classroom mural of “I can.”
Those commitments and the “I can” attitude form the foundation of Ms. McCoy’s class.
She teaches the students to believe in themselves just like she believes in them.
“I became a teacher because I had teachers who believed in me and encouraged me and saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. That's my whole job here. I tell the students when they come in the very first week, ‘I'm your number one cheerleader in this building, and all I want to do is set you up for success,’” explained Mabry’s Teacher of the Year.
Ms. McCoy was inspired by one of her own Cobb County teachers, who refused to allow her students to say, “I can’t.”
“It's something that's been huge for me my whole life. When you come across obstacles, I think our brain naturally wants to say, ‘I can't do that’ or shy away from things. The reality is, that we really can. We just have to sometimes find the tools and resources to make us successful. So, I set that as an expectation in my room. When you set that bar for kids, and you set the expectation, they will always rise to it,” explained the Walton High School graduate.
To ensure Mabry students have the skills they need to be successful, not just in middle school but in high school and beyond, Ms. McCoy led the charge to create an entire class dedicated to helping students learn how to stay organized and develop proper study habits.
When she was a math and English language arts teacher, she determined that organization was an obstacle for many of her students. She recognized the challenge middle school students often face transitioning from one or two main elementary school classes to seven different classes and seven different teachers in middle school.
“Trying to keep up with the expectations of each class and when a test is coming in, it's a lot to keep up with. So, building healthy habits like writing in your agenda, having a to-do list, and binder organization is huge. Most of our students will either get assignments, and they'll lose the assignment before they even complete it, or worse, they finish the assignment and then they lose it before they even make it to class,” Ms. McCoy revealed.
That is not the case after the students take Ms. McCoy’s Study Skills connection class.
“When I had her in sixth grade, it set up the rest of my years to make me better at keeping track of what I needed to do. I didn't use to fill out my agenda. Now, I always write down what I need, and then my binders are much more organized because I have the skills from her that I learned,” said Lexi, a Mabry 8th grader.
Fellow 8th grader Chloe agrees that Ms. McCoy’s Study Skills class will have a lasting impact on her.
“I would definitely keep the organization skills going forward as I go into high school or college,” Chloe added. “One thing I learned is it makes things a lot more useful being organized rather than having everything somewhere where you don't know where it is.”
According to Ms. McCoy’s students, they have spoken to other students who have not taken the class. They’re unorganized and have a lot of missing assignments.
“After being in Study Skills class, I was doing better in other classes,” added Mabry 8th grader Cayden. “The one thing that makes me excited to come to her classroom is that I can get my work done, and I know that I won't be stressed at home when I come to class.”
Cayden is not the only one doing better in her classes. Ms. McCoy and the students track their grades to see how the skills they have learned are impacting their success.
“The biggest things are missing assignments. So, when we can get assignments finished and turned in on time, we're seeing grades go up,” Ms. McCoy revealed. “Actually, as a class, we are working on building that data every week of how many missing assignments we have when we get them turned in and then watching our grades grow. We have a huge growth of students passing and students making honor roll, a lot of them for the very first time when they're in the Study Skills class.”
Some of Ms. McCoy’s passion for Cobb students is how she views each student who steps into her school.
“When these kiddos walk in, I 100% see them through the lens of my own kids and what I would want for my kids. When they come into my room, they're like my kids at school. I love my students,” said the mother of four.
Ms. McCoy’s four children all attend Mabry Middle School, and her oldest twin boys have already taken their mom’s class.
“She's always there to help me, my friends, anyone that needs it. If you need to get a project done that day. She will give you time to do it. She wants you to succeed. She wants you to be the best you can in school,” said 8th grader Barrett, one of Ms. McCoy’s twins.
His brother Aiden agrees that his mom has helped him, his friends, and the whole school stay organized. His advice to new students coming to Mabry directly relates to his veteran educator mom.
“A class you should really have is Ms. McCoy’s Studies Skills class. She will help you stay organized and just hopefully overall in your academic career,” Aiden recommended.
Barrett and Aiden are not the only ones grateful that they attend Mabry Middle School, where their mom teaches.
“I'm thrilled to have my children in the building because the teachers love them well, and they love our students well. They see the best in our students. They have high expectations, and all of our kiddos in this building rise to that expectation,” Ms. McCoy said with praise.
Ms. McCoy is an example of the types of teachers Barrett, Aiden, and their classmates learn from every day.
“I see something in each of my students, sometimes things that they don't see themselves. My goal is to spark that fire, even if in just a handful of them, and make the same difference my teachers did for me. That's my goal: to bring out the best in them. This is our future. We want what the best for these kiddos who will lead us to the future is,” Ms. McCoy added.
Having experienced Cobb Schools as a student, a parent, and a teacher, Ms. McCoy knows why she still calls Cobb home and believes she has the power to make a difference in students’ lives.
“I am so grateful for this community. I would not like to teach in any other district. This is an amazing district. I feel super supported by and from the top down,” declared Mabry’s teacher of the year. “We have everybody behind us and supporting us, which helps us be successful.”